Where to start? Adrian McKinty has a competition on his blog to win a copy of his new book, Fifty Grand. I believe it’s crime, and has something to do with Hemingway and Cuba. I think. Declan Burke, who can possibly be trusted, says it’s good. I know I won’t win, so am very relaxed about it.
The ‘lottery’ takes the form of guesses (drinking, what else?) in Adrian’s blog comments, and by now the general conversation has gone off in many new directions. Firemen, clothed or otherwise, and football. It took me a while to work out it’s football, because they were going on about Reading, which at first I took to be what you do with books. Whether they can play better than Man United remains to be decided.
But you’d expect Reading on an author’s blog to be the book reading Reading. Mother-of-witch and I went there once, in the year of football, 1966. We crossed a very stormy North Sea on the Kronprinsesse Ingrid (and she’d been Queen for a good many years by then, so that tells you how old the boat was), and by the time we saw the yellow water of Harwich Parkeston Quay (which we could both pronounce properly) we felt rather green.
The witch had her first ever taste of English cuisine at Liverpool Street station, and the cheese and tomato sandwich was almost the nicest she’d ever eaten, so I’m wondering what went wrong. Anyway, taxi to Paddington, where we boarded a train of the old-fashioned kind, compartments and no corridor. Really quaint to young witches brought up on the Famous Five.
‘Is this the train to Reading?’ (the book kind of reading, you understand, pronounced reeding), asked the brave Mother-of-witch, whereupon the whole compartment of kindly English people burst out that yes it was, but it’s Reading (redding).
So not only could we pronounce Harwich, but we could also manage Reading after that. And in a way it was my route to reading, since I’m now waffling daily on the subject in my new language. I’d been learning it for a year at that point, and the North Sea crossing was my reward. Between you and me, I think Mother-of-witch quite fancied the trip, too. Not the being seasick, but the rest.
We weren’t heading for Reading, naturally, but continued to Henley. Like me, Mother-of-witch didn’t believe in simple trips when you can do complicated ones. We had never heard of Henley. The witch swam in the Thames and bought a Man From UNCLE gun in Woolworths. And started a lifelong fondness for Italian waiters, each and every one of whom had to exclaim with concern over the nasty bump on my forehead, which I acquired on the Kronprinsesse Ingrid in the choppy yellow waters. These days you’d sue.